Using Educational Animations in E-Learning

Animated cartoons and moving images have captivated viewers’ imaginations ever since they were first invented. As one animation company writes, “From the moment an infant is able to focus on a moving object, the ability to enjoy animation is born.” However, dynamic images can not only be used to entertain, but also to teach effectively, and they specifically lend themselves to use in an e-Learning context.

What is educational animation?

The term “educational animation” can refer to any animated image that is used to teach and learn. It could be as simple as making an arrow move on a diagram or as complex as making your own complete cartoon film on your topic. However, many educators are finding they can create animations between these two extremes to help their students master a concept. Using the Custom Animation effects in PowerPoint is one accessible way to get images or parts of images to move. Biologist Danton O’Day writes that he was able to create high-quality animations of cell biology in less than one day using PowerPoint. Not only are such animations helpful in traditional classrooms, but any animation created in PowerPoint can readily be converted to an e-Learning course using a tool such as iSpring.

What are the benefits of educational animation for e-Learning?

Of course, moving images can help capture and sustain a viewer’s attention and make learning more fun. Not only that, however, but they can also help academically. Scholar Richard Lowe argues that educational animations are especially effective when they replace static images that attempt to show motion and change. For example, scientific processes such as human breathing, the cycles of the moon, the rotation of the earth, or the reactions of proteins in a living cell were traditionally portrayed in textbooks through static images. Sometimes this required a confusing array of dotted lines or pointing arrows to try to convey what was going on. The learner wasted their mental energy on trying to decode the image, rather than using all of it to learn the material being taught. A carefully designed animation can clearly demonstrate a dynamic process and make learning much easier.

A static image is much easier to understand when it's replaced by an educational animation like this one:

Animations can also help teach abstract concepts or illustrate something that is difficult to understand. They can be designed for any age of learner and used on many different topics.

Of course, poorly planned animations can also be distracting or confusing. In reviewing the research literature on the subject, O’Day and others found that animations were more effective if they:

  • Had a spoken narration that played during the animation
  • Used a conversational style in the narration
  • Used both words and images
  • Did not contain too much information
  • Did not overwhelm the learner by going too fast
  • Did not focus on unimportant elements or show unnecessary details
  • Were interactive in some way. Interaction can happen in many ways, such as letting the viewer pause and rewind the animation, zoom in on part of it, or control its speed.

Animations with these features can be created in PowerPoint, and voiced-over narrations can be easily added in a program like iSpring. (Click to view Dr. O’Day’s complete animation video of “Calcium and the Dual Signalling Pathway.”)

Try out your own creative ideas and bring life to a topic through animation!

Posted in e-Learning